Spirituality and Theology

The Assembly has asked its agency Theology and Discipleship to investigate ‘spirituality’.

Spirituality is a term being used widely now. Its use seems to have grown in opposition to a materialist and technical view of life. It draws upon relational and ecological dimensions, often appealing to indigenous, and now pagan, traditions.

The term spiritual extends beyond organised forms of faith. If anything, it is also opposed to received forms of faith or ‘religion’. The terms ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ have been opposed to one another since Kant. I understand that Barth reversed the sense of these words.

In any case the term ‘spirituality’ is used in contradistinction, even opposition, to the church. David Tacey is one Australian commentator in this field.

This is a challenging area for the Uniting Church in Australia. Such a study must not be done superficially. It must be carried out with an appreciation of our own traditions and the traditions of the wider church.

Christian faith would once have spoken positively of ‘piety’ or ‘Christian life’. The practice of prayer and meditation have always been essential to Christian faith. The relationship between the personal and the communal worship of the church was a given in earlier times. This relationship has become more complex since the rise of modern individualism. The Reformed tradition has never been at home with the mysticism of Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

Post-modern discussion of the self has been accompanied by a theological response (for example, Stanley Hauerwas drawing on the notion of virtue, or recovery of Benedictine forms of prayer).

Theological exploration is essential. One of the main debates concerns our response to modernity. The main lines were drawn between Schleiermacher and Karl Barth concerning the human relationship to God. This remains an area of contention. The renewed Trinitarian explorations provide resources.

Christian ‘spirituality’ is framed and shaped by its own confession of faith in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul’s phenomenology of prayer in Romans 8 makes clear that our response of faith and prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in the Fourth Gospel, also speaks of the essential role of the ‘Paraclete’ in making him known and drawing the believer into communion with the Son and the Father.

In order to begin discussion concerning Spirituality, I judge a ‘search’ methodology is best employed. That approach requires drawing on the people who can inform our exploration.
The discussion is essentially a theological discussion. ‘Theological’ here is not to be understood as ‘academic’, so much as taking up the quality thinking and experience available.

We must:

  • open up the understandings and practice of prayer available in Scripture;
  • explore the history of the understanding pf Christian faith and prayer in our traditions, including monastic, Reformed and evangelical (we would have contemporary ecumenical discussion in view, and seek out people who can talk of, for example Methodist, Benedictine, Orthodox, Mennonite, Taizé , Iona ‘spirituality’.)
  • explore what is meant by a ‘spirituality of justice and peace’;
  • investigate ‘indigenous’ contribution;
  • seek to appreciate the current use of the term ‘spirituality’
  • take up and explore the relationship of communal and personal forms of worship and faith.

Wes Campbell, March 2003